Question: Several years ago, I insulted another woman terribly. Recently, when I searched for her to ask for her forgiveness, I found out that she had passed away. What should I do now?
Answer: The Rosh (in his rulings on Masechet Yoma, Chapter 8, Section 24) states regarding the Days of Awe: “One should make sure to appease anyone one has hurt.” The Gemara (Yoma 87a) states: “Rabbi Yose bar Chanina says, If one wishes to ask for forgiveness from another and the individual has passed away, one must bring ten people to the individual’s grave and exclaim before them, ‘I have sinned to Hashem, G-d of Israel, and to so-and-so whom I have hurt.”
Thus, if one hurts another individual and that person has passed away, one must visit the grave of the wronged party along with ten other people and then describe before them in a general manner how one hurt the deceased. For instance, regarding the question at hand which is about one woman who insulted another, the woman should exclaim, “I have sinned to Hashem, G-d of Israel, and to so-and-so who is buried here by speaking to her in an insulting manner.” The Mishnah Berura (Chapter 606, Subsection 14) adds that the individual requesting forgiveness from the deceased at the latter’s grave should make this exclamation while barefoot.
The Acharonim (Mishnah Berura, ibid, Yabia Omer, Volume 10, Chapter 55 in glosses on Rav Pe’alim, Volume 2, Subsection 37) write that those individuals in attendance should exclaim “You are forgiven” three times to the individual.
Thus, it is proper to gather ten people and if necessary, pay ten Kollel men to accompany her to the cemetery where she should stand next to the grave of the deceased woman she insulted and request her forgiveness in the above manner. Indeed, Hagaon Rabbeinu Yosef Haim zt”l writes (in his Responsa Rav Pe’alim, Volume 2, end of Chapter 62) that this should preferably be performed in front of ten men; however, if this was done in front of ten women, it is likewise sufficient. Thus, regarding our situation where one woman insulted another, if there is no way she can take ten men with her to the cemetery, she should take along ten women to the cemetery and ask for forgiveness in their presence.
If the wronged party is buried in another city, Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l writes (in his Chazon Ovadia- Yamim Nora’im, page 244) that it is sufficient for the individual to request forgiveness in front of ten people in the location where he currently is. If one has a friend or acquaintance who lives in the city where the wronged party is buried, one should appoint this friend as one’s emissary to request forgiveness on his behalf at the grave of the deceased in the presence of ten men. Several Acharonim rule likewise.
One should therefore be careful not to leave any person in the world, alive or otherwise, hurt or insulted by one’s words or actions. One should hurry to ask for forgiveness from anyone one has insulted.